RACE: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

About the Candidate

Name: Chakena D. Perry
DOB: Oct. 19, 1993
Occupation: MWRD Commissioner
Political Experience: Three years as MWRD employee; Voter registration efforts in high schools and collegesl Former Chicago Voters Action Board President; former Chairwoman of the Cook County Young Democrats; former member of Planned Parenthood Illinois Action; Co-Founder of Black Millennial Renaissance
Website: chakenaperry.com
Twitter: @chakena_perry
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chakenadperry/
Instagram: @chakena_perry

Candidate Statement

Hello. My name is Chakena Perry and I am a Commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. In January 2022, Governor JB Pritzker appointed me to the Board of Commissioners to fill a 2-year vacancy. Prior to the appointment, I worked at the MWRD for three years where I fell in love with environmental policy and green infrastructure development – leading me to pursue and complete a Master of Arts in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.

As a native Southsider and resident of the Southwest Suburbs –  areas with a long history of flooding and environmental pollution – “environmental justice” isn’t a buzzphrase for me; it’s my lived experience.

I am running to retain my 2-year seat because there’s a ton of work to do to prepare our communities to combat the ongoing threat of climate change, particularly within Black communities that are disproportionately impacted by flooding and other environmental harms. I will support efforts to improve our stormwater infrastructure to reduce flooding, update our land use policy to better inform how we lease our land, explore ways to improve our contract bidding process and workforce development opportunities, and support best practices to keep our water clean.

As an organizer, I’ve spent my life fighting to make government more accessible to everyday people, and as a voting rights advocate, I know that government works best when more voices are influencing the process. With a historic amount of federal funding available from the Biden administration for water infrastructure projects, I am asking for you to support me so I can continue advocating for disproportionately impacted communities and make sure they’re prioritized and adequately supported.

As the youngest MWRD commissioner and youngest countywide elected official, I am excited to lead from a place of innovation, equity, and civic engagement to make the District work better for all of us.

Thank you.

Candidate Q&A

Why are you running?

With the prevalence of climate change and environmental justice issues at the forefront, I am running to retain my seat because Cook County residents deserve a leader with a strong policy and civic engagement that's willing and ready to build and leverage relationships at every level of government to protect our communities from flooding and allocate resources, particularly funds from the federal government (AARPA), in an equitable way to reach communities that need it the most.

I’ve lived in the Back of the Yards and Ashburn neighborhoods and currently reside in Justice, IL. These areas have a few things in common: a history of flooding and/or environmental degradation. Each area is in proximity to factories, railyards, or outdated infrastructure that puts local residents at risk. With my lived experience, professional background, and current role, I have a moral and civic duty to make MWRD work better for every resident and improve our engagement with all communities.

What does this office do well, and what needs fixing?

MWRD does a great job with nutrient recovery, gray infrastructure innovation, and research collaboration. As a Commissioner who has worked at the District for three years prior to being appointed, I have identified three areas that I would like to improve during my tenure: flood mitigation efforts, land use management, and our affirmative action/procurement bid process.

What is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?

Flooding is the most pressing issue facing my constituents, particularly residents in disproportionately impacted communities. There are few ways I plan to address this issue: Using an equity lens, I plan to work with my fellow commissioners to update the requirements and metrics used in our stormwater and green infrastructure grant program applications to ensure that disproportionately impacted areas are able to successfully compete in the grant process. Even further, I would like to identify funding opportunities to better assist smaller municipalities that have limited access to capital since some are unable to enter intergovernmental agreements with the MWRD. Although the MWRD provides a certain amount of financial assistance, the grantees are required to cover any additional costs along with project maintenance, and some areas don’t have the funds, resources, or bandwidth to cover it on their own, which is an equity issue.

What specific steps would you take to ensure your office is accessible and responsive to your constituents?

My staff and I are working to reimagine our public engagement strategies. My love for civic engagement makes me excited to undergo this effort because it’s not enough for residents to merely know that we exist; they should also know the resources at their disposal and the power they hold to hold us accountable and shape future policy prioritizes. I have an open-door policy at my office and encourage residents to contact me or my staff at any time.

Here are a few specific approaches I am considering: Support the development of an environmental justice definition to use as a framework for community engagement; convene regional stakeholders directly impacted by the decision(s); host community meetings to gain additional insight from residents in the impacted area(s); utilize social media, email, and phone to gain additional insight from those unable to attend in-person meetings; rethink public affairs strategy to encourage public participation at MWRD board meetings; rethink how we can use water reclamation district plant offices as avenues to improve community engagement and community insight.